As I core tiny orbs of potato from their skins with a melon-baller to make these curry stuffed potato skins, I am transported back to the kitchen at Caffé Museo in San Francisco, the avant guard café for the San Francisco Museum of Modern art where I briefly attempted my hand at being a professional cook. We used to make tiny steamed potato cups filled with chicken salad that we would serve as passed hors d’oeurves at fancy galas across the bay area through the café’s offshoot, Modern Catering.
Oh, how raw and painful my hands would be after making those little cups that everyone raved about at the parties! That was the most physically demanding job I have had yet. And as much as I love food and cooking – and feeding people – I just didn’t have the, um, sense of urgency necessary to make it in the fast paced San Francisco culinary scene. I am deeply grateful my talented chefs Gordon Drysdale and Douglas Monsalud who put up with me, learning from them has forever affected the way I eat and cook.
I imagined this dish while eating with my brother-in-law Kevin Zeigler, a natural chef himself who left empty potato skins for us to fill as we liked when he made mashed potatoes for dinner over the winter holidays. I immediately knew I wanted them as a vehicle for aloo gobi, one of my favorite Indian dishes – although you could use this technique to make twice baked potatoes or skins of any kind.
Over time I have experimented with many a recipe for aloo gobi, and so far my favorite is from Manjula of Manjulaskitchen.com, whose online recipe is the basis for this dish. On her site Manjula includes videos of herself preparing each authentic Indian specialty so we can watch her technique and emulate it in our own homes. It is a wealth of information.
You could skip the individual spices and use curry powder, although making your own has some serious taste advantages. Some harder to find items are the asafetida, which I have discussed in an earlier post/recipe, and amchoor, or mango powder. Amchoor powder is ground, dried, unripe green mango and adds a tart, citrusy flavor to foods. Here it pairs well with the fresh cilantro to brighten up this meal. I found it at Concord Mart on North Main Street here in Concord, our local Nepalese-owned Asian market. It would also be available online. Or you are welcome to substitute lemon and/or umeboshi vinegar (also addresses in an earlier post) – I use ume AND amchoor. The flavor is worth the hassle.
You don’t have to make the potato skins either – although your hands will be fine, those little potato cups we made were in the hundreds at a time. When I generally make aloo gobi, I drizzle a bed of fresh baby spinach with sesame oil and lemon or lime juice and salt, or umeboshi vinegar, and top it with hot aloo gobi to wilt the spinach. Yet these potato boats can be eaten by hand! You don’t even need a plate! They are great for travel, and reheat nicely, although they are equally delicious room temp. You could serve them with a spinach salad, or a lentil dal, or sautéed greens (see kale sautéed with umeboshi post).
Aloo Gobi Boats – or Curry Stuffed Potato Skins
3 medium/large red skinned potatoes
¾ inch fresh ginger
I Tablespoon plus 1 ½ teaspoons curry powder
1 Tablespoon coriander powder
1/3 teaspoon turmeric
1/3 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
4 Tablespsoons water
3 Tablespoons oil
2 serrano green chilies or ½ jalapeno (or less, and optional)
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons amchoor powder OR juice of ½ a lime or lemon
1 teaspoon umeboshi vinegar, or to taste (optional)
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
Water as needed
Salt to taste
Sesame oil – not toasted (optional)
Preheat oven to 350. Cut potatoes in half lengthwise. Scoop out centers with small side of a melon-baller. Place empty skins cut side up on a cookie sheet and place in oven. They will take about an hour to bake.
Core the stem from the cauliflower, and separate the crown into small florets with your hand or a knife. Slice the stems into small bite sized pieces. Cut chilies or jalapeno lengthwise into slices if you want to remove them from the food when eating, or dice them if you want to leave them in. Leaving them in is spicier.
Grate ginger root on the small holes of a cheese grater, retaining the juice. Put the grated ginger and either curry powder or coriander, turmeric and cayenne in a small cup or bowl with 4 T water and blend into a paste. This is key, it will keep the spices from burning (Thanks Manjula!)
Heat on medium high a skillet large enough to hold all of the potato and cauliflower. Add 3 T oil. When the oil becomes thin and runny (if you are using cumin seeds, add one, when it pops the oil is ready) add the cumin seed and asafetida if using, and bay leaf. Swirl the oil for a moment, and when the seeds become aromatic, add the green chilies or jalapeno. Stir for a moment, then add the ginger and/or spice paste and cook until it dries slightly and the oil begins to separate from the paste.
Add the cauliflower, potato, a large pinch of salt and ½ cup of water to the pan. Stir well to coat. Cover and cook about 20 minutes on medium, or until desired tenderness, stirring every 3 – 4 minutes. I like it pretty soft, and need to add extra water several times during the cooking to keep the vegetables from sticking to the pan. I let it dry out at the end.
Add cilantro and amchoor or citrus, blend well. Add salt or umeboshi vinegar and cayenne to taste. It’s ok if it gets a little mashed potato-y. Remove bay leaves and chilies if desired.
Once skins are baked to desired softness, fill with aloo gobi mixture. You may have some mixture left over. Serve or let cool and store. Reheat in an oven for 10 -15 minutes. Garnish with fresh cilantro and the optional sesame oil when serving.
Makes 6 boats, serving 2 – 3 people.